STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A new survey indicates just how much Amazon, the giant online retailer, has reshaped America, this nation of shoppers. Here's NPR's Alina Selyukh.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: OK. Here's a big number - 92 percent. The new NPR/Marist poll found that, in America, of all the people who have ever bought anything on the internet, almost all of them - 92 percent - have bought something on Amazon. And here's a question that's been bugging me as a radio reporter - what does that sound like? What's the sound of Amazon's insane popularity?
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SELYUKH: One unexpected answer was in the lobby of my own apartment building, construction of a new package room specifically to tame the piles of brown cardboard boxes spilling out of the lobby closet - the sound of America physically adjusting itself to Amazon's success. But of course, the more obvious showcase of Amazon's popularity is this.
How much do you shop on Amazon specifically?
MELANIE HINCHEY: Gosh, it's definitely over, like, $100 a month, probably over 200 a month.
SELYUKH: Melanie Hinchey is a mother of two who works in tech in Milwaukee. And she is one of a hundred million people in the world who pay for the Amazon Prime membership. In the U.S., that involves shelling out $119 a year. If you add in all the extra moochers who use other people's accounts, our poll found that, in America, nearly two-thirds of all online shoppers are living inside the Amazon retail universe. A quarter of Prime users buy something every week.
HINCHEY: I buy things like soy milk and body wash, things that are shelf stable that I know I'm going to use every week via Prime. And they just come once a month. I don't even have to think about buying those things.
SELYUKH: This kind of stocking up on the basics online - like toothpaste, garbage bags, cereal, canned foods - it's a powerful shift in behavior that we're just starting to see. According to our survey, most Americans have never done this. They've never bought basic household or nonperishable goods online. But the people who do, like Hinchey, tend to rely on Amazon. Convenience is habit-forming, and it's something founder and CEO Jeff Bezos knew early on. Here's what he told NPR in 1999.
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JEFF BEZOS: Our No. 1 mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company. And we mean that across any industry and across any time.
SELYUKH: This obsession with customers has catapulted Amazon into a company worth $800 billion today. It's made Bezos the richest man in the world. Amazon now employs more than half a million workers. And we should note - the company is one of NPR's underwriters.
Amazon is now making movies and TV shows, storing government data on the cloud, selling internet-connected door locks, making the popular Alexa smart speaker. When a company gets to be this far-reaching, critics emerge from all directions. And for Amazon, the most prominent one is President Trump. Bezos was asked about this by the head of a media company called Axel Springer in April. The question was, what if Trump decided that Amazon was too big and should be broken up? Here's Bezos.
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BEZOS: For me - again, this is one of those things where I focus on what we can control. And I expect, whether it's, you know, the current U.S. administration or any other government agency anywhere in the world, Amazon is now a large corporation. And I expect us to be scrutinized.
SELYUKH: But what the scrutiny entails is unclear. Legal scholar Lina Khan has been studying the power and impact of Amazon. She says that the government and the courts apply the laws in a way that makes it difficult to check Amazon's dominance.
LINA KHAN: Antitrust laws have become very focused on consumer welfare.
SELYUKH: She's saying the laws focus on making sure that consumers have enough choices or don't get overcharged, for example. But with Amazon, Khan argues the issue is not the short-term interest of shoppers but the impact on the suppliers and the retailers and the competitors in all the areas where Amazon looms large. Many of them now depend on Amazon to reach their own customers.
KHAN: And it shows how if you are amassing market power, antitrusts won't necessarily respond to that anymore unless it's obvious that you're also hurting consumers in some way.
SELYUKH: Khan has her own critics. But that's the thing about Amazon. It reaches far and wide, but customers trust it - a lot. In our survey, a majority of online shoppers said they don't have confidence in most online retailers when it comes to protecting their privacy, but 2 out of 3 said they do trust Amazon. And that's a big reason why Americans are OK with Amazon's reign as the top online retailer and brown boxes keep piling up in my building and on doorsteps across the country.
Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
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